Prime Minister, Please Defend Free Speech

If you don’t beg, you don’t get.

Dear Prime Minister

Yes, it’s me again. Don’t worry, I’m not stalking you. I just take matters of civil liberties terribly seriously.

You’ve still not responded to my previous letter but I will forgive you if you act on this one. Do we have a deal?

In fact, if you were to make a clear, unequivocal statement expressing your government’s commitment to freedom of speech then I could just about live with defining the United Kingdom as a “Christian country”. Why? Because at least I could be confident we could carry on discussing that.

It’s serious now, Prime Minister. Yesterday a representative of the National Secular Society was due to give a talk to students at Queen Mary College, London, concerning sharia law and human rights. Her rights (and those of others) to freedom of speech, not to mention the right not to be physically threatened, were quashed by a person demonstrating one of the effects of sharia law: the threat of violence for criticising religion. I know, Prime Minister, irony is so difficult to define but so easy to recognise.

Today in the United Kingdom we do not have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech does include the right to criticise, to mock and to offend. As George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”  I agree with that.  Do you?

If freedom of speech stops at the point where people disagree or are offended, then it is not worthy of being described as freedom of speech. Those are precisely (some of) the areas where freedom of speech is required. We do not need an explicit freedom to agree with each other.

My mum has told me a million times not to exaggerate but I am “serious as cancer” when I say we do not have freedom of speech. Words should be our limitless yet priceless currency but it is painfully clear they have now been rationed by the religion of peace. (A religion so peaceful it could also be called the religion of dead(ly) silence.)

I am a lawyer by profession so I am paid to worry, so maybe I am just being pessimistic when I say our words have been rationed. Maybe the situation isn’t quite that bad. Maybe – to paraphrase Eric Morecambe – Islam merely regulates the order in which we are permitted to arrange our words. Can you and your government live with that? I can’t. I won’t.

You were fortunate enough to attend a fantastic school and then you studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University. At any point did you learn about Enlightenment values such as freedom of speech? Does JS Mill mean anything to you? I know you’re all for small government – a philosophy I tend to share with you, by the way – but come on, Prime Minister, there’s small government and there’s non-existent government.

While we’re on the subject of Conservatism, I wrote a letter about freedom of speech to your old university mate, James Delingpole, the other day. (He’s not got back to me, either.)

In this blog post in the Telegraph, Mr. Delingpole didn’t seem the slightest bit bothered about erosion of his own freedom of speech in the face of Islam. This is the same Mr. Delingpole, incidentally, who describes himself as a ‘libertarian’ on the home page of his website. No, I don’t understand that either. If Mr. Delingpole is a libertarian, then my mum was a member of the Bullingdon Club.

Maybe Mr. Delingpole attended the same university lessons as you. Maybe he missed the same lessons you did, too.

Please, Prime Minister, don’t tell us ‘Islam means peace’, and don’t wheel out Moroness Warsi or any other sidekick to say this on your behalf. The thing is, we’ve heard it so much we’re getting tired of it. Because it’s simply not true.

We are often told we have to interpret the Koran’s murderous theology (sorry, I mean, “challenging passages”) ‘in context’. Well if that’s the case then we also need to interpret ‘Islam means peace’ in context: in the context of Islam often being anything but peaceful.

It is not racist to stand up for freedom of speech. It is not racist to criticise or even to mock a religion or a religious figure. Non-obedience to sharia law is not anti-Muslim; Muslims are sharia’s greatest victims.

My parents came to this country in the 60’s because they respected British traditions of the rule of law, democracy and personal freedoms, and they wanted to embrace those traditions.  I – and all decent citizens of the United Kingdom – expect the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to embrace those traditions, too. And to defend them. No matter what the cost.

If you won’t defend freedom of speech now, when will you?

What will it actually take for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to defend freedom of speech?

Thank you.

The Re-Enlightenment

I’m also sending this via the online Number 10 system.